Editor's note: This is the fourth in a five-part series of articles honoring retired educators for Teacher Appreciation Week.
After graduating from Mexico High School in 1970, David Russell enrolled at Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State University) to pursue a degree in business. His educational direction soon shifted, and he settled on a more "industrial" focus.
Eventually, he earned his bachelor's degree in industrial education and embarked upon a career of nearly three decades, teaching in a field now gone from the curriculum of most high schools.
"I had applied for several teaching jobs after graduating in the fall of 1975, and got a call out of the blue from Russellville High School several weeks later," Russell said. "Grover Snead, who was the superintendent, and Jack Brumley, the high school principal, conducted the interview, and I was offered the position."
Russell would teach the school's industrial arts program and learned the job offer was the result of an unfortunate circumstance: He was replacing the previous teacher, Jerome Eggers, who was killed in an automobile accident Nov. 26, 1975.
"At the time, I didn't even know where Russellville was located," Russell said with a chuckle. "I started in the middle of the school year in January 1976 and was 23 years old at the time."
"Some of the kids in the class were bigger than me, and I remember thinking to myself, 'I hope they don't grow them all this big around here,'" he said.
During the seven-hour school day, Russell taught for six periods a mixture of classes that included general shop, woodworking and drafting. There was little guidance provided by the administration or curriculum from the state; instead, he reviewed available industrial arts textbooks and began to develop his own educational structure.
Early in his teaching career at Russellville, he joined a couple of his fellow "newbie" teachers in overseeing an elementary gymnastics program in the cafeteria after school. Additionally, he and Roger Buchta, a friend who taught German and history courses at the high school, rarely missed a basketball game in the early 1980s.
"There were always budgetary constraints since it was such a small school, and I had to account for all materials that were purchased," he said. "Since there wasn't any federal money supporting the program, the school would purchase materials for projects, and the students were supposed to reimburse that purchase."
In many of the classes, students selected projects they wished to build, such as blanket chests, rolltop desks and gun cabinets. Several of these projects were entered in statewide competitions in Warrensburg. Also entered in these competitions were drafting drawings and even a unique leatherwork project created by a former student.
Throughout a project, Russell ensured the students knew how to use the assorted power tools and equipment in the school's shop, assisted with the drawing of plans and outlines for the build, and remained available for oversight and guidance.
"There were students who did not have money for projects, but the school might need podiums or some bookshelves in the library," he said. "In this case, the school covered the costs of the materials, and the students would gain experience by building the piece."
Since students worked with bandsaws, radial arm saws, lathes and other power equipment with sharp edges, one of the greatest stresses of the jobs came from having to maintain a watchful eye to ensure safety and to avoid injuries.
He added, "And it wasn't just making sure the students were using the equipment in a correct manner you had to watch out for students about to get into a fight, chewing tobacco and those types of situations as well."
The most memorable moment of his teaching experience occurred in August 1985 when a young woman named Maribeth Lupardus began teaching at Russellville High School. The two became acquainted, Maribeth said, from a lighthearted and flirtatious insult.
"I was dressed very proper and wearing knee-high socks and penny-loafers," Maribeth said. "He made some kind of joke about my socks. We began dating the following spring and were married in December 1986."
The couple have since raised three children. In 2004, Russell finally made the decision to retire from teaching after more than 28 years of teaching industrial arts. He went on to work for Central Bank in a part-time status for three years followed by teaching in-school suspension at Russellville High School for two years.
In his retirement, he and Maribeth have traveled throughout the United States, have participated in fishing trips to Canada and attended more than a dozen NASCAR races.
Russell still uses his building and design skills for assorted personal projects. He recognizes that industrial arts programs are no longer a widespread component of high school curriculum, but they are still means by which students can learn some of these important skill sets.
"When I first retired, I was a little disappointed they didn't bring on an industrial arts teacher to replace me and continue the program because it really helps student learn basic skills," he said. "But I understand why it happened, when you consider the lack of federal funding in addition to the safety risks and insurance concerns."
He continued, "Fortunately, you can still learn some of these skills at places like Nichols Career Center and in various agriculture programs. Also nowadays, student have the internet and YouTube, where they can find detailed videos teaching many of these industrial arts skills even the safety aspects.
"In the end, I guess the industrial arts program in high schools just ran its course."
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.